Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christ's Nativity Foils "Same God" Prof

Do Islam and Christianity revere the same god?

No, they do not.  The most cursory of glances at each world religion answers the question.  Yet sophisticated people bristle at the notion of simpletons like me arriving at concrete answers when so much academic energy has been expended in the pursuit of more nuanced considerations.

Larycia Hawkins
Take, for example, the furor Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins continues to promulgate over her employer's answer to this question.

Officially, at least, Wheaton College affirms that Islam and Christianity worship different gods, and school officials have placed Hawkins on paid leave because she doesn't believe it.  Wheaton can do that; Hawkins signed a statement of faith when she was hired in which she'd promised to (publicly, at least) respect the evangelical school's theology.  Hawkins, however, has publicly stated that she stands "in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book."

"The book" being a euphemism for the Bible.

Which, right off the bat, is a bit incongruous, since Muslims do not use the Bible as their holy book, but the Koran.  Plus, it's the Bible that teaches us Who the God of the universe is.  We learn about His immortality and our mortality.  We learn what His definition of sin is.  We learn about grace, and that God's perfect grace - not ritualistic legalism - saves us from the penalty of our sin.  We learn who Jesus Christ is.  We learn about how the Holy Spirit reveals these truths to God's faithful people.  We learn that the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God the Father all comprise the Trinity, and that any interpretation of our Creator God that excludes any member of the Trinity is heresy.

That's how we know the answer to the question:  do Islam and Christianity venerate the same deity?  And the answer is "No," because Islam worships a legalistic, non-Trinitarian god, whereas Christians worship the God of grace Who saves His people from their sin through faith in His own Son, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.

Some people like to say that this distinction is a complex one; but in actuality, it's only complex for people who cannot abide God's sovereign imperative that His is the only true plan of salvation.  The idea that there's only one door, one path, or one cross seems provincial or ludicrous.

There are far smarter people than me - people like Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, for example - whose intellectual expertise has managed to detect nuances in conventional interpretations of Trinitarian doctrine and theological theory that cast doubts on basic perceptions of yes and no, and right and wrong.

Volf has long argued that Muslims and Christians worship the same god.  Such claims stem not from ideological parameters of respective beliefs, but from a heavily historic view of religions in time and place.  Volf is probably the most prominent contemporary Protestant who advocates this view, but it's an old theory which, until recently, has been an ancillary religious debate waged mostly outside the realm of populist theological consciousness.  Yet as recent expressions of Muslim extremism have urgently brought Islam itself to the forefront of geographical and political awareness, defenders of Muslims have recklessly parroted bad theology - both bad Islamic theology and bad Christian theology - to try and bridge ideological, nationalistic, and emotional divides.

That's basically what Hawkins appears to be doing right now.  At first, she gained some fleeting notoriety for pledging to wear a hijab to show solidarity for Muslim women during the Christmas holiday season.  Hers was a flaky - yet in academia's tolerant way, a theologically-tame - demonstration of "solidarity" (her word), especially in her job as a political science professor.  Even I have been arguing against right-wingers spewing hateful rhetoric against Muslims, and war refugees from Muslim-dominant countries in particular.  But I haven't advocated for treating Muslims humanely out of a conviction that we all worship the God of the universe - or the god of the Koran.  I advocate for treating Muslims humanely because I don't see where a solid interpretation of pertinent Bible passages teaches anything different.

If Hawkins was as interested in worshiping the God of the Bible as she seems intent on keeping her professorship at a college with which she's obviously at odds, why can't she subjugate her academic elitism and remember that the Gospel is not as complex as she wants to make it.  After all, Christ's Nativity occurred before shepherds, who were considered the lowliest of the low; generally uneducated, and deeply unsophisticated.

Indeed, the shepherds' story in the Gospel of the Nativity succinctly answers the question of Who Christians worship.  If you believe Luke 2, you can't believe Muslims do, too:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

...When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

Christ wasn't just a good person, or a great prophet, or a remarkable miracle-worker.  He was, and is, and forever will be God's holy Son, full of grace and truth.

Religions can come to dominate cultures, but it's what each person individually believes that matters.  What do you believe about Who God is?  Is His Son Jesus Christ?  Who convinces you that He is?  Is it your academic prowess, or the Holy Spirit?  Who else could create you, save you, and help you know it, but God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?

The shepherds from Bethlehem's hills rejoiced at the birth of their Savior without fully understanding the concept of the Trinity.  Oddly enough, it was the theologians of Christ's day who waffled between skepticism and outright contempt of Him.

Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

May a Child lead all of us into a childlike faith in Him, His Father, and Their utter holiness.

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